Answers to Questions About Formatting
Three questions from DailyWritingTips.com readers about various aspects of formatting content, and my responses, follow.
1. Is it bad form to indent the first sentence of an email paragraph?
Email programs may not preserve indentations, and using a line space instead makes the format more visually appealing (and the line space and the indentation are redundant for indicating a transition from one paragraph to the next).
2. Facebook does not support italicized fonts. What is a good substitute to imply a gentle emphasis on a word? “I ‘love’ you”? That’s too wrong.
Framing the word or words to be emphasized with asterisks — “I *love* you” — is a common method for indicating emphasis, but it’s not necessarily subtle — more, in this case, suggesting a squeal by one person smitten with another.
In nonamorous contexts, asterisks can still be somewhat forceful: “You are *so* in trouble!” But they can also suggest a softer emphasis: “Be sure to pull the lever *gently* so that it doesn’t break.”
A more neutral option is to frame the word or phrase with _underscores_ (Shift+Hyphen).
3. Which is the correct way to format time in the case below?
(a) 9:30 – 11:15am
(b) 9:30 – 11:15 am
(c) 9:30 – 11:15a.m.
(d) 9:30 – 11:15 a.m.
Do I leave a space after the last number for the am to follow, or not? Do I use periods, or not? Should I use the am after 9:30 as well as after 11:15? Is a dash OK to use to mean to? Or should I use “9:30am to 11:15am”?
The lack of a letter space between the closing time and the abbreviation am in (a) and a.m. in (c) is problematic because the abbreviation appears to apply only to the closing time. (However, the convention is that abbreviations for “before noon” or “after noon” appear after only the second time element unless one time is before noon and the other is after noon, or vice versa.)
Also, periods in initialisms are becoming obsolescent, though The Chicago Manual of Style recommends retaining them when they follow a lowercase letter — Mr., etc., and so on but not MD, DC, and so on — so either (b) or (d) is correct.
Also, speaking of letter spaces, no space should precede or follow the hyphen in the time range (and the hyphen technically should be an en dash, though some newspapers and websites use the simpler symbol). A more formal piece of content such as a book is likely to spell out to within a time frame, but in most other contexts, the symbol is appropriate. The best choices, therefore, are (formally) “9:30–11:15 a.m.” and (less formally) “9:30–11:15 am.”
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